Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven
Classical and jazz pianist, composer, improviser
 
 
       
 

PORTRAIT

YOUNG PRODIGY
In concert at Ars Musica, the young exceptionally gifted musician lifts the barriers and imposes himself naturally.
A beautiful discovery.


COLLARD-NEVEN, “ TOTAL MUSIC”

Interview
by Martine D.Mergeay

In the course of these last years, some may have been startled as they learned that Jean-Philippe Collard was playing as a soloist in the ensemble of Musiques Nouvelles, was signing a film music, participating in a tour of the Namur Chamber Choir; could it really be the famous french pianist, former student of Pierre Sancan and Knight of the legion of Honor (among other glorious titles)?
Well no, precisely . And the latter nearly felt overshadowed by the presence, increasingly noticed, of a brilliant homonym in his own field. By common agreement (but following some juridical debate) it was therefore decided that Jean-Philippe Collard “the young” would change his name: “One cannot imagine how complicated it is on the administrative level, and how heavy on the level of personal identity! To really change my name would have been impossible, I have therefore decided to add to it my mother's name. Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven, it's a bit long but it sounds good...”

It is the beginning of a conversation which will come out dense... Thin and nervous, the young man smiles behind his glasses, he fights with handkerchief blows against a ruinous cold, while keeping track of his extremely clear thoughts. The expression is sensitive, precise and unadorned.

AT THE BEGINNING WAS THE EAR

Thus we learn that Jean-Philippe was born in Haccourt, near Visé, in the province of Liège, thirty years ago, in a family of teachers, not musicians. His father was a history teacher, his mother still teaches french and literature and is the principal of the Visé establishment where Jean-Philippe completed his high school years. “ My parents were literary people, their library was a inexhaustible treasure which I conscientiously plundered. There was no classical music records (except for one, by... Jean-Philippe Collard which my grand-mother had given me as a present when I was small!) and we didn't go to concerts. But my father played the piano and improvised in a jazzy style; this presence of live music in my home environment was decisive, not only in what regards my taste for music but also in the manner in which I approached its study.
As a child, Jean-Philippe is passionate about film music. “ I wanted to become a composer right away, and since it was in the style of the house, I played “jazz” and improvised endlessly...
This habit was very troublesome when I started learning music “for real” at the academy. The border line between what was written and what wasn't has remained for a long time very blurry for me, each “real” piece gave me inspiration for others, in my own style. The miracle was to have begun with the ear, through imitation, without reading”
At seven, Jean-Philippe then enters the Visé Academy, in the neighbouring town, where he would follow his path both in music and in school, a classical path, where he proves to be a (very) good student and receives effortlessly, at 17, his medal at the academy. Everything seemed normal to me, but retrospectively I realize that my position was far from ideal. Of course people were proud of me, but I had never known any real confrontation with professional musicians, nor the stimulation which would have derived from a more demanding , a more involved background in the field of music. On the other hand, I was haunted by my passion for music, for harmony, for an inner understanding of the musical material, this passion dominated everything and fatally created a gap from others. At the same time I wanted to live as a normal teenager, with friends, romance and nights out. In practice I often found myself alone, struggling with a mass of emotions.

THE IMPRESSION OF LOOSING EVERYTHING

At eighteen Jean-Philippe has to make a choice: the option “Latin, Math, Languages” which he has pursued in High School opens every door but he has always known that he would become a musician. He enrolls at the Liège Conservatory, and following the wise counsel of Charles Ernst, his Academy director, opts for the piano class of Juliette Poumay-Longrée.
“What still surprises me is that I have not chosen composition but piano... Even if the idea of sending me to madame Poumay-Longrée was great, it was a cruel time.
I had a facility to learn of course, but my technique was “personal” meaning unruly and anarchical.. I had to unlearn everything, let it all go, start all over again. “ I must set you straight again”, my teacher would tell me, she was right, but at the same time she hindered my instinct. I felt like I was loosing everything. Eight years later I feel like I can at last say thank you! Without her I think I would never have evolved. But she was terribly demanding, in the russian way. She would for instance force me to play the left hand of a fugue learned by heart, without looking at the keyboard, or to practice on an oak wood table only to measure the equivalence of touch. In the Harmony course, it was the same thing, I felt as if everything was contributing to break me, to shut down my imagination. I ended up setting jazz and composition aside; I worked like mad, I even had good results... And one fine day, at a time when I was preparing the second exam for the superior diploma, I took a deep breath and declared to madame Poumay-Longrée that I was giving up the piano at the Conservatory. We parted on a terrible clash... But each day, and even though I have never told her, I am aware of what I owe her.”

ANTOINETTE'S LESSON

Jean-Philippe would not have been able to make such risky decisions had he not had decisive encounters with the conductor Patrick Davin head of Musiques Nouvelles, with Jean-Paul Dessy (who replaced Davin shortly after) with Boyan Vodenitcharov, third winner of the 1983 Queen Elisabeth's and established in Belgium where he became a teacher. “ With Boyan I found at last someone who truly understood me, a fabulous pianist who played Beethoven, Debussy and Piazolla just as magnificently, who played jazz, who improvised.”
It was the time of all discoveries and open doors: at twenty one, Jean-Philippe joins the ensemble Musiques Nouvelles and the ensemble 88 as a solo pianist, he creates a contemporary music duo with Philippe Libois and tries his hand in the composition of music for film and theater.
“At the same time, I was conducting an in depth work, on an innermost level, intellectual and spiritual, I was building my own repertoire.
Today I feel ready to take responsibility for what I am. The birth of my daughter Antoinette, two months ago, is surely instrumental in this way of perceiving things. Her coming has made me understand that to love, is to risk loosing. Everything done with passion leads to taking risks.”


ON EVERY FRONT

on coming March 18th Jean-Philippe Collard-Neven will be for the third year in a row, the guest of the Ars Musica festival (as a pianist!) , performing pieces by Luigi Nono, Claude Vivier and Jacinto Scelsi. At the same time he forms with the french violist Vincent Royer a duo celebrating numerous composers such as Fafchamps, Cassol, Deleuze, Globokar, Ferrari, Giraud, Riessier...The duo associated with the New Yorker David Shea for concerts and CD's , and with the Danel Quatuor and the Clarinet player Jean-Michel Charlier, for a recording dedicated to the chamber music of Jean-Luc Fafchamps.
Collard-Neven writes regularly stage music for the theater, namely for Geneviève Damas, his wife, for Valérie Cordy, Martine Godart, Françoise Spiess... He has formed since 2003 a duo with the double-bass player Jean-Louis Rassinfosse, with an album to show for, “Regency's Nights”. Finally, a sizable acknowledgment from a world which has not been easy on him, Collard-Neven has become a professor chamber music and improvisation at the Royal Music Conservatory of Mons. All that before turning thirty.
“ I have known no shortcuts nor protection. While others were participating in international contests, I was writing stage music for children.”
As for knowing what is today the core of his identity as a musician: “ I attempt to reach wholeness, to add up, or rather to gather up, my different identities, to lift the barriers.”
(MDM)


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